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Dan Flavin at David Zwirner
Copyright Dan Flavin, courtesy David Zwirner. Photo: Anna Arca

Things to do in London this weekend

Can’t decide what to do with your two delicious days off? This is how to fill them up

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson
&
Alex Sims
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Look, we get it. January sucks. It’s cold and it’s dark. You’re skint and you’re probably on some sort of joyless health kick. But it’s not all rubbish, we swear! In fact, the first month of the year is when some of the best events and things to do come thundering back onto London’s cultural scene.

There’s loads of good, wholesome London fun to be found out and about this weekend. London’s subterranean celebration of new theatre, Vault Festival, is back after a long hiatus with over 500 theatre and comedy shows, from experimental plays about upskirting in South Korea to work-in-progress pieces from big-name standups like Luisa Omielan. The last ever International Mime Festival is bringing cutting-edge dance, puppetry and performance to the capital, and hit show ‘The Lehman Triology’ is back on the West End. 

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Ready to get your sporran springing at a Burns Night ceilidh? London can provide that for you this weekend. Want to take in some five-star theatre? Check out Rob Madge’s ‘My Son’s a Queer, (But what Can You Do?)’. Need to fill your eyes with dazzling neon lights? Wander around Battersea Power Station’s winter light festival. Fancy watching thrilling short films. Head to the London Short Film Festival. Or, are you really hankering after spring? Look forward to brighter days at Chelsea Physic Garden’s snowdrop walk.

Still got some gaps in your diary? Make some time to check out London’s major art exhibitions this weekend like the National Gallery’s huge Lucian Freud retrospective, Tate Modern’s ambitious Paul Cézanne show, the Tate Modern’s ode to Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s towering fabric sculptures and the RA’s sprawling ‘Making Modernism’. Or, head to one of London’s best bars or restaurants and take in one of these lesser-known London attractions. January is also the best time of year to explore London on a budget and without the crowds. Plus, you can catch lots of the city’s best theatre, musicals, restaurants and bars offer discounted tickets and meal deals. So get ready to embrace 2023! 

RECOMMENDED: Check out our guide to the best things to do in January.

What’s on this weekend?

  • Theatre
  • Experimental
  • Waterloo

 

Over eight weeks, Vault 2023 will stage over 500 theatre and comedy shows, from experimental plays about upskirting in South Korea and the exploitation of blindness by the entertainment industry, to work-in-progress pieces from big-name standups like Luisa Omielan and Jordan Brookes. There’s even a one-day wrestling festival within the festival, because why not?

Have kilt-raising time for Burns Night in London
  • Things to do

Scotland’s national poet Rabbie Burns turns 264 this year and Burns Night is an opportunity to have a kilt-raising, whiskey-filled good time in celebration. Even if you’re not in the big guy’s motherland for the day, London still has plenty of food, booze and partying to celebrate this weekend. Here’s our pick of the best. 

 

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You know what your January might need? Endless baskets of dim sum. Preferably at a very popular Chinatown stalwart that wants to feed you to the gills with things like Taiwanese pork buns, pork and prawn soup dumplings, and ‘supreme’ crab meat xiao long bao. Sounds good right? Well we can go one further by giving you all that – plus a glass of prosecco – for just £23. Now, if that doesn’t kick those January blues back where they belong we don’t know what will. 

Bottomless dim sum and a glass of prosecco for £23, only through Time Out Offers.

  • Things to do
  • Film events
  • London

Short films are where many of the greats – Martin Scorsese, Lynne Ramsay, Paul Thomas Anderson et al – got started. And for 20 years the London Short Film Festival has been a trusty showcase of new talents and small, but perfectly formed short films. This year’s shindig promises hundreds of British and international short films as well as a bunch of talks and workshops. 

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  • Theatre
  • Experimental
  • London

The jugglers, circus people and clowns are on their way to London… one last time. Back to being a full live event for its final edition, the long-running London International Mime Festival will be much missed but let’s enjoy it grand finale, which features a typically wide variety of shows, from dance to puppetry to ‘mask performance’. See classic stories reimagined and also exclusive international films.

We really like this Islington bar and kitchen, and we promise it’s not just because our art director helped kit the place out. What we really like about this place is the fact that James Cochran (ex-The Ledbury and Harwood Arms) has brought his lauded Around The Cluck concept to the pass. And that means out-of-this-world chicken burgers alongside the Beavertown beers on tap and very decent cocktails. So, want to see what the fuss is about? We can totally help you out, with 70% off the normal price.

Burger, fries, side, doughnut and a cocktail for £14.95, through Time Out Offers.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Seven Dials

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more joyous, life-affirming show in the West End right now than this one. This one-person show revolves around the amateur childhood stage productions of its charismatic and funny writer and performer Rob Madge. This isn’t a story about privilege or inevitable success; it’s about love. You’ll leave the theatre with a grin. 

 

  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
  • Chelsea

London’s oldest botanical garden turns 350 this year and due to Chelsea Physic Garden having its very own unique microclimate, the ancient spot is home to over 120 species of snowdrops that bloom unusually early each year there. 'Heralding Spring’ is your first opportunity to visit the garden in its anniversary year. Follow the trail of dainty white flowers weaving through the botanical garden and look out for a number of special events from snowdrop-themed talks and workshops to its famous plant sale. 

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Waterloo

Originally commissioned as a dance show, ‘Sylvia’ was reconceived as a full-blown musical and its initial 2018 run at the Old Vic was declared a work-in-progress. Its 2023 run – with Beverley Knight returning to star – will be its official ‘world premiere’. Its past run was a potted – albeit lengthy – history of the suffragette movement with tremendous feelgood factor. 

Ever been to the ME London hotel? It’s pretty swanky. It’s also home to a very popular bar and restaurant ten floors up, with some stonking views of London. And if that sounds like your cup of tea then you should totally check it out. But wait! You’ll want to do so via Time Out Offers because we’ve got eight dishes for you and a pal to share (plus a glass of cava each) for just £30. And if you don’t want the cava? You can have a mocktail. God you’re so pure – congrats.

£30 for an eight-course sharing menu plus a drink, only through Time Out Offers.

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  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Leicester Square

Sam Steiner’s debut play, a surreal romcom about a couple struggling to cope in a society where language has inexplicably been rationed has been revived by director Josie Rourke with a starry cast of Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman. It’s a short, quirky play but one with lots for the cast to get stuck into, and seems to nicely fit the mould of Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’ and Duncan Macmillan’s ‘Lungs’, both indie two-handers that have gone on to be substantial hits. 

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Battersea

Brighten the gloomy winter evenings with a trip to Light Festival at Battersea Power Station, featuring eight spectacular installations by international artists that will light up the iconic Grade-II listed building. See a massive illuminated bath plug (it’s a comment on water waste, fyi), a huge slinky curving around the power station building and a ‘post-apocalyptic sunset’ along the Coaling Jetty. 

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  • Art
  • Piccadilly

You want Giovanni Vespucci's 1526 map of the world? Porque no. Masterpieces by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya? Si por favor. Sculptures, silk textiles, ceramics, lustreware, silverwork and precious jewellery from across Latin America? Ay caramba. It's all being loaned to the RA by the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York for this ambitious exhibition about the art and creativity of the Spanish speaking world. Muy bien.

Hungry? East Asian bar and kitchen Lan Kwai Fong will be serving you plate after plate of dim sum, bao buns, and a quite-frankly-dizzying selection of good-looking plates. You’ll get a glass of prosecco too, and there’s even a dessert if you can find another notch on your belt – deep-fried sweet custard buns. That’ll finish you off.

Bottomless food at Lan Kwai Fong, from £29 through Time Out Offers.

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  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Sloane Square

Trans actor and playwright Travis Alabanza follows up their acclaimed plays ‘Burgerz’ and ‘Overflow’ with ‘Sound of the Underground’, a celebration of London’s queer nightlife. The Royal Court being the Royal Court, it’s unclear if this will take the form of a drama with characters or something more abstract, but it sounds like a fun way to kick off 2023 regardless. It’s directed and co-created by Debbie Hannan.

  • Theatre
  • Immersive
  • Westminster

Indie immersive theatre crew Swamp Motel returns with a fresh adventure. ‘Saint Jude’ is a partnership with AI company Charisma.ai that’s set in the titular Saint Jude, a company that provides comfort and care for people trapped in irreversible comas. In the hour-long show, audience members will observe the brainwaves of the comatose, interacting with a series of real and AI-powered characters as they explore the mysterious institute.

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  • Theatre
  • Shakespeare
  • South Bank

Shakespeare’s horror nasty ‘Titus Andronicus’ comes to the beautiful Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Expect a wild ride in Christian’s take on Shakespeare’s almost indescribable Roman play, heaving with rape, mutilation, kin-slaying and, of course, inadvertent cannibalism. Globe regular Katy Stephens will stars as Titus, with Kibong Tanji as Aaron, and Lucy McCormick as Saturninus with original songs written by sassy cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice.

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Greenwich

Luke Jerram’s six-metre glowing sculpture of the moon is a beloved outdoor installation that’s done the rounds of London a couple of times before, but we’re always excited for a chance to touch back down on its pitted surface as it returns to Greenwich’s Painted Hall. In essence, it’s a huge glowing sphere decorated in Nasa-inspired detail and it looks really, really cool, especially after dark when it’s all lit up. There’s an accompanying surround sound composition by BAFTA-winning composer Dan Jones and visitor daybeds so you can lie down and gaze up to the beautifully illuminated piece suspended high against the Painted Hall’s Baroque backdrop.

  • Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Piccadilly Circus

Catch the opening night of ‘The Unfriend’ on Sunday, which sees erstwhile ‘Doctor Who’ head writer Steven Moffat make his debut as a playwright in partnership with his ‘Sherlock’ collaborator Mark Gatiss (who makes his debut as a stage director). The social satire follows English couple Peter and Debbie who befriend an eccentric, Trump-loving old lady named Elsa while on holiday in the US. They agree to stay in touch and finally look her up online when she invites herself to stay – only to make a horrifying discovery. Reece Shearsmith, Amanda Abbington and Frances Barber star.

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  • Art
  • Mayfair

Dan Flavin did one thing – installations made of neon tubing – but damn did he do it well, and his minimalist approach to light and sculpture made him one of the twentieth century's most iconic artists. This show is a recreation of his 'colored fluorescent light' exhibitions, which took place in New York and Cologne in 1976, and were major milestones in his use of color and serial progressions, featuring all nine colors that comprised his visual vocabulary at the time. 

  • Bars and pubs

It’s no longer impossible to find tasty and satisfying alternatives to pints at London's pubs and bars – in fact, some of the no-alcohol options on offer right now are even better than their boozy cousins. And they come with an added bonus of leaving you hangover-free, too. These bars cater to non-drinkers for Dry January and beyond. We've got buzzing drinking holes that also specialise in alcohol-free cocktails, completely dry tasting rooms and pubs with a penchant for low-and-no beers. These zero-percent champions are 100 percent fantastic. 

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Inamo is a lot of fun at the best of times but when it’s offering 68 percent off a massive feed? Well worth a look. Not only are you getting endless plates of (decent) pan-Asian food, you’re getting unlimited beer, wine or fizz, too. Okay so it’s not quite endless or unlimited – you’ve got 90 minutes and then you’re out – but you’re going to leave here very well sated indeed. Trust us, we’ve tried it. Plus you’ve got your choice of Inamo’s Covent Garden and Soho venues, so the central locations are pretty handy, too. 

Bottomless brunch at Inamo, £39.95 through Time Out Offers.

  • Restaurants
  • price 1 of 4

London might well be the world’s greatest food city (that’s right, we’ve gone there) but with spiralling living costs, it’s not like any of us can eat out as much as we’d like to. So welcome to our list of London’s best cheap eats. Every highlighted dish here costs £10 or less and variety is the name of the game – so expect London staples like fish and chips, and pie and mash, but also discover the best bargain places for banh mi, burgers, gozleme, pizza, shawarma, bao, lahmacun, kebabs, bagels, baps and sarnies

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This Covent Garden restaurant is the more informal sibling of the lauded and laurelled Lima, over in Fitzrovia. We’d recommend a visit anytime but when it comes with the chance to sample six courses plus a drink for just £29? We’ll get quite excited and throw a ‘heartily’ before our recommendation. Basically, this is a fantastic opportunity to sample the exceptional Peruvian cooking from Virgilio Martinez, at a banging price point.

£29 for a six-course menu and a drink, only through Time Out Offers.

  • Theatre
  • Circuses
  • South Kensington

Canadian circus superstars Cirque du Soleil return for their traditional start-of-year slot at the Royal Albert Hall with ‘Kurios’, a UK premiere. The steampunk-styled show is inspired by Victoriana and thus has a clear connection to the RAH, which has had special modifications performed upon it over the course of this year to reinforce the structure to accommodate more of the Cirque’s shows. It’s written and directed by Michel Laprise, with the usual cast of international talent.

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Covent Garden

Now well into his eighties, former ‘Star Trek’ actor George Takei has famously reinvented himself as a liberal LGBT Twitter icon. But he can still cut it on stage too: at an age where most of his peers have long retired, Takei comes to London for a 13-week-stint next year with the UK premiere of his musical ‘Allegiance’. Written by Jay Kuo with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione, the musical is inspired by Takei’s own memories of growing up in a Japanese internment camp in the US for a portion of the Second World War. The original 2015 Broadway production received mixed reviews. But this is a new production that'll be playing the intimate Charing Cross Theatre. Directed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson, ‘Allegiance’ follows Sam Kimura (Takei), an elderly Japanese-American who is transported back six decades to his memories of unjust imprisonment during the war. Telly Leung from ‘Glee’ will play the younger Sam.

  • Art
  • Millbank

A cheeky smile can get you pretty far in life, and even further in art. Just ask Mona Lisa, whose semi-smirk has helped make her the most famous painting ever. English painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye pushes that idea – the enigma of the portrait – to an extreme in this huge Tate Britain show, her first major institutional exhibition in the UK, which is revived after a pandemic-enforced early closure back during the Omicron days. Her figures smile and grin and frown and laugh, and we never, ever know why. But also, every figure here is black. It’s like Yiadom-Boakye has reshaped art history in her image, swapped the endless white faces of the portraits of the past for a small handful of black ones. It’s a simple but brutally powerful move.

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  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Covent Garden

James Graham is a political playwright so on top of his game that you kind of take it on faith that any play he comes up with will be a banger, regardless of how esoteric the subject. Thus it once again proves with ‘Best of Enemies’, a drama about the bitter rivalry between US political commentators Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr during the 1968 US party conference season, in which they served as pundits for the struggling ABC News. This is an astoundingly good, funny, tragic, human fanfic, a perfect marriage of writer, subject, director and cast. 

  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Charing Cross Road

Rising non-binary star Emma Corrin – aka Princess Diana in ‘The Crown’ – takes on the role of literature’s most famous gender non-conformist in Neil Bartlett’s new stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’. The classic 1928 novel follows the eponymous Orlando, an immortal being born male during the reign of Elizabeth, who goes on to live for another 300 years sporadically changing gender and, frankly, has a bloody good time doing it. Michael Grandage directs.

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  • Bars and pubs

Wherever you are in London, there will always be a pub nearby. Without pubs, London could never be its chatty, chaotic and slightly tipsy self. There are thousands here and they come in many forms. Time Out’s 100 Best Pubs list exists to celebrate London’s taprooms in their many guises. From the perfect pubs for drinking alone to the best boozers for giant yorkshire puddings – get stuck in, spot your local and maybe find a new favourite. 

  • Things to do
  • Ice skating

Wrap up warm and get practising your toe loops. November has arrived, which means that London’s winter ice-skating season is officially open. And with it, a bunch of the city’s biggest and best nights out have been put on ice. From Skate at Somerset House, to new kid on the block Glide at Battersea Power Station, here are the best places to get your skate on this weekend. 

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  • Art
  • Kensington

The Design Museum’s huge exhibition, ‘Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today’, will be looking at Surrealism’s impact on the design world up to the present day. It’s the first time the museum has explored the relationship of fine art to design on this scale with nearly 350 objects will be on display, from big hitters of the art movement from Man Ray and Salvador Dalí to Marcel Duchamp and Leonora Carrington. 

  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Islington

Still riding high from his breakout turn as Connell in ‘Normal People’, Paul Mescal makes his post-fame return to the stage in the iconic role of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’s peerless ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Though Mescal is undoubtedly the numero uno draw in Rebecca Frecknall’s production, there’s a terrific supporting cast, with Patsy Ferran as Blanche Dubois and Anjana Vasan as Stella. One of the hottest shows in town this winter, tickets have inevitably already sold out. But, if you’re happy to brave the returns queue you may just be in luck.

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  • Art
  • Piccadilly

You’ve got to wade throughout a lot of male names in the history of modernism before you get to any women, but they were there, and they were pivotal. This show aims to celebrate three of those women – Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin – all working in Germany in the early twentieth century, and all having a huge impact on the birth of modernism. 

  • Art
  • Bloomsbury

It has been exactly 200 years since some very clever people figured out how to decipher ancient Egyptian writing, and this major new immersive exhibition at the British Museum celebrates that moment. With objects on loan from around the world – including 'The Enchanted Basin', a huge black granite sarcophagus – the exhibition will explore how the Rosetta Stone opened up a window into history that had remained tightly closed for thousands of years. 

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  • Art
  • Bankside

Nineteenth-century French artist Paul Cezanne is not just the best of the impressionists or post-impressionists, he’s one of the most inventive, radical, experimental, weird, and important painters ever. This major show depicts Cezanne as a political radical painting the degradation, violence, misogyny and injustice of his times. It’s conceptualism long before Duchamp, explosive cubism long before Picasso, pop culture and flesh and weird gloopy paint long before anyone else. It’s amazing modern art, and if the Tate would have let us, we’d have given it all a big kiss.

  • Art
  • Bankside

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s ‘Abkans’ are massive woven sculptures that look like the type of bizarre, organic creation you’d expect to discover buried in the deepest reaches of a rain forest. Made in the 60s and 70s, the ‘Abkans’ cemented the artist’s reputation – as well they should’ve, because these towering, raw shapes are absolutely brilliant. Now you can see a whole load of them in Tate Modern’s huge Blavatnik Building. If that wasn’t reason enough to go, they’re also showing some of the Polish artist’s other large-scale works, including ‘War Games’, sculptures making use of felled tree trunks. 

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  • Art
  • Soho

Chris Killip might not be as well known as Martin Parr or have the cult kudos of Tony Ray-Jones, but the work he produced in the 1970s and ’80s arguably stands above either of them. Killip was born on the Isle of Man and returned to concentrate on the communities he grew up amongst. He also explored other disintegrating communities in the north of England: Tyne shipbuilders, steelworkers in Yorkshire and seacoal scavengers on the Northumbrian coast. The people Killip portrays, and the landscapes they inhabit, are always shockingly, immediately alive, full of interest and possibility. 

If we said there was a Kensington health club where you could choose from three massages for just £27 you might think we’d necked too much Christmas sherry but hey, we’ve carried out due diligence and we’re totally not wrong. Hit the London Health Hub and choose from a deep tissue massage, a sports massage or a Swedish massage, and then laugh yourself silly at the fact you’re getting more than 70 percent off. 

Your choice of massage at London Health Club for £27, only through Time Out Offers.

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  • Art

Something dark is happening under the Westway, and it’s all Nana Wolke’s doing. The young Slovenian artist convened a gathering, inviting cabbies and performers to a north Kensington underpass. She filmed the proceedings, but the screen in this show faces the wall, it’s unwatchable, leaving her paintings as the only real documents of what happened. There’s a filthy underbelly being scratched here, a pervasive, grimy sense of threat and sleaze that leaves you feeling grubby, tense and very uncomfortable.

  • Museums
  • South Kensington

Now in its fifty-eighth year, the renowned and celebrated annual wildlife photography competition exhibition returns to the Natural History Museum with images of the most extraordinary species on the planet captured by professional and amateur photographers. This year saw tens of thousands of entries from across the globe, with 100 selected including the winner –American photographer Karine Aignerwas’s remarkable image of a buzzing ball of cactus bees spinning over the hot sand on a Texas ranch. Don’t miss what is always a highlight in the NHM’s calendar.

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  • Art
  • South Kensington

‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ is a large-scale exploration of Korean pop-culture, and the first of its kind in the UK. Hallyu (meaning Korean Wave) started gaining traction in the 1990s, encompassing Korean music, movies, fashion and online games. The exhibition will take a close look at the explosion of K-Pop bands such as BTS as well as the 2012 ‘Gangnam Style’ craze. 

 

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  • Art
  • Chalk Farm

Chinese artist LuYang uses those ideas of bodily and spiritual freedom to explore themes of life, death, Buddhism and philosophy, all through the hyper-intense lens of anime, sci fi and gaming. The backroom has the biggest surprise: a fully functioning, real life, actual arcade. You can play a version of Space Invaders where you have to shoot cancer cells out of the sky, ride the Uterus Man motorbike, lose yourself in Buddhist-themed games about hell and the material world. Trocadero art. LuYang would probably reject a binary view of their art as either good or bad, too, but it’s worth making an exception, because it's really, really good. 

WTTDLondon

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